Last in this trilogy of wisdom-sharing is the workplace itself and the challenges it presents to us HR professionals. While there are many industry-specific themes that keep HR busy, there are also universal principles that arise everywhere according to the workplace milieu. Again, I’ll use three examples to illustrate.
Firstly, the arena. While pitting employees against each other in a Darwinian fight-to-the-death for that next promotion may well be fun for some bosses, it creates major head- and heartache for HR. Because everyone involved is so aggressively self-interested (“Why did she get that and not me?“) your HR decisions must be able to withstand the harshest scrutiny.
Unless you’re superhumanly consistent, transparent and fair, you’ll be subjected to external appeals (which undermine your authority) and internal scandal, gossip and rumour-mongering (“She only got that because she’s in bed with HR“). Incorrect. HR sleep alone on a hard straw pallet in the basement. HR don’t make friends except stray cats. Plus, in a trial-by-combat style workplace there are no friends, only stabbers and the stabbed, or the flailed, as it were…
But you’ll have to work with both. Dealing with triumphant egos is more difficult for HR than broken ones, because the losers often just leave. A couple of forms, an exit interview, they’re gone. You may be asked to provide the loser with a reference. Don’t do it. It’s brutal, but what can you say except “They weren’t good enough”? HR do not lie.
Winners are more work for HR because they usually stay. Winners also stamp their feet and expect the spoils of war, but are never satisfied because they think happiness equates to more money, a better office and higher status. You can help your organisation by never giving them quite enough money / office / status so that they’re perpetually willing to re-enter the fray.
Another environment you commonly encounter is the politically-correct workplace (PCW). Again, a warning: the PCW constitutes a vorpal rift in common sense. As hospitable as the surface of the moon, this is where Miltonian utilitarianism becomes inverted so that “the greatest good for the smallest number” is the rule. Trust me, the PCW it’s an awful place to HR.
Subjectivising innocent banter, for example, means the end of banter. If you hear yourself saying “I’m not joking when I say no joking” then you’ve had the PC-needle and need to retire. A workplace without humour is poison to morale, because in many industries (mine included) jokes and banter are as integral to employee survival as their personal protective equipment. So if PPE is compulsory for their safety, how can you ban jokes???
In fact, true HR excellence in a PC environment means identifying those who game the system. Faux outrage should be treated with extreme prejudice, just as you would sexual harrassment or racism. WH&S law only requires what is ‘reasonably practicable’, so depriving 305 staff of a bathroom so the 306th has exclusive use on their non-binary days is neither reasonable nor practicable. The future is shared toilets anyways, so the ladies (etc) better get ready for dumpin’ with dudes!
While PC culture can be created by a single ‘woke’ entity (the boss), the skewed views of an outlier whose tolerance — real or affected — makes the workplace a dead-zone is not good for business. Sydney isn’t San Francisco, people. There are no ‘zies’ or ‘hirs’ in my job, and if this sounds wrong, somebody explain why HR should be “foisting the elite’s norms on a majority that doesn’t share them“?
That’s right, you can’t. Or at least haven’t yet…
My last example, perhaps the worst of all, is the millenial fun park where employees play foosball at lunch and bring their dogs to work. There’s a creche downstairs for all the little Arya’s and Atticus’s. There’s a nap room for when you get a bit tired after foosball. None of the offices have doors. No doors? I know, right? It’s a place where volunteering is ‘strongly encouraged’ — as oxymoronic as rebadging HR into ‘Wellness Coordinators”.
Double GTFO to that.
But I guess you’d prefer the fun park to the fight club, especially if you’re under 30 or not very resilient. Having experience all three, the best workplace is where more people want in than out. It’s proof you’re winning the HR fight! And instead of fostering the mutual conceit that this is their dream job for life, be honest and openly agree it’s just a step towards that job.
Because that is your job.
The core work of HR practitioners, irrespective of industry, is inducting new employees and upskilling them so they get a better offer elsewhere. The inbetween stuff (managing their injuries, promotions, demotions, conduct, misconduct, performance, pregnancies, etc) is just filler: it keeps you busy to the end of the day, to the end of your days.